U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Kenya, July 1996
Bureau of African Affairs

Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of East African Affairs

July 1996
Official Name: Republic of Kenya



Area: 582,646 sq. km. (224,960 sq mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital-Nairobi (pop. 1.4 million in 1996). Other cities--
Mombasa (480,000), Kisumu (200,000), Nakuru (165,000).
Terrain: Kenya rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean in a 
series of mountain ridges and plateaus which stand above 3,000 meters 
(9,000 ft.) in the center of the country. The Rift Valley bisects the 
country above Nairobi opening up to arid plain in the north. Mountain 
plains cover the south before descending to the shores of Lake Victoria 
in the west.
Climate: Varies from the tropical south, west, and central regions to 
arid and semi-arid wasteland in the north and the northeast.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Kenyan(s).
Population (1995 est.): 28 million.
Annual growth$rate (1995 est.): 2.7 percent.
Ethnic groups: African--Kikuyu 21 percent, Luhya 14 percent, Luo 13 
percent, Kalenjin 11 percent, Kamba 11 percent, Kisii 6 percent, Meru 
5 percent. Non-African--Asian, European, Arab 1 percent.
Religions: indigenous beliefs 24 percent, Protestant 40 percent, Roman 
Catholic 30 percent, Muslim 6 percent.
Languages: English, Swahili, over 40 local ethnic languages.
Education: Years compulsory--none, but first 8 yrs. of primary school 
are provided through cost sharing between government and parents. 
Attendance--83 percent for primary grades. Literacy (in English)--59 
Health: Infant mortality rate--70/1,000. Life expectancy--59 yrs.
Work force (1.6 million wage earners): Public sector--44 percent. 
Private sector--56 percent. 2.2 million informal sector workers. Formal 
sector breakdown: Services--47 percent;  Industry and commerce--34 
percent;  Agriculture--19 percent.


Type: Republic.
Independence: December 12, 1963.
Constitution: 1963.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state, head of government, 
commander-in-chief of armed forces). Legislative--unicameral 
National Assembly (parliament). Judicial-- Court of Appeal, High 
Court, various lower courts. Administrative subdivisions: 60 districts, 
joined to form 7 rural provinces. Nairobi area has special status.
Political parties: eleven registered political parties. Ruling party: 
African National Union. Suffrage: universal at 18.
Flag: black, red, and green horizontal bands from top to bottom 
separated by narrow white stripes. a warrior's shield and crossed spears 
are centered on flag.


GDP (1995): U.S.$8.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (1995): 4.9 percent.
Per capita income: U.S.$290.
Natural resources: wildlife, land.
Agriculture: Products--tea, coffee, sugar cane, horticultural products, 
corn, wheat, rice, sisal,  pineapples, pyrethrum, dairy products, meat 
and meat products, hides, skins. Arable land--5 percent.
Industry: Types--petroleum product, grain and sugar milling, cement, 
beer, soft drinks, textiles, paper and light manufacturing.
Trade: Exports (1995)--U.S.$1.6 billion: tea, coffee, horticultural 
products, petroleum products, cement, pyrethrum, soda ash, sisal, hides 
and skins, fluorspar. Major markets--Uganda, Tanzania, United 
Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Egypt, South 
Africa, United States. Imports (1995)--U.S.$2.7 billion: machinery, 
vehicles, crude petroleum, iron and steel, resins and plastic materials, 
refined petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, paper and paper products,  
fertilizers, wheat. Major suppliers--U.K., Japan, South Africa, 
Germany, United Arab Emirates, Italy, India, France, United States, 
Saudi Arabia.
Market exchange rate: 57 Kenya shillings (Ksh)=U.S.$1. (May 1995).


Kenya's population is diverse. Traditional pastoralists, Arab Muslims, 
and cosmopolitan residents of Nairobi contribute to the culture. The 
standard of living in major cities ranks high in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
Most city workers retain links with their rural, extended families and 
leave the city periodically to help work on the family farm. About 75 
percent of the work force is engaged in agriculture, mainly as 
subsistence farmers. The urban sector employs about 1.4 million 

The national motto of Kenya is harambee, meaning "pull together."  In 
that spirit, volunteers in hundreds of communities build schools, 
clinics, and other facilities each year and collect funds to send 

The four state universities enroll about 20,000 students, representing 
only 40 percent of the Kenyan students who qualify for admission.


Fossils found in East Africa suggest that proto-humans roamed the area 
more than 20 million years ago. Recent finds near Kenya's Lake 
Turkana indicate that the Homo genus of humans lived in the area 2.6 
million years ago.

Cushitic-speaking people, who occupied the area from about 1000 BC, 
received Arab traders by the first century AD. Kenya's proximity to the 
Arabian Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian 
settlements were founded along the coast by the eighth century AD. By 
then, Bantu and Nilotic peoples had moved into the area.

The Swahili language, a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, developed as a 
lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. Arab dominance 
was eclipsed by the arrival in 1498 of the Portuguese, who gave way in 
turn to Islamic control under the Imam of Oman in the 1600s. Britain 
established its influence in the 19th century.

The colonial history of Kenya dates from the Berlin Conference of 
1885, when the European powers first partitioned East Africa into 
spheres of influence. In 1895, the British Government established the 
East African Protectorate and, soon after, opened the fertile highlands 
to white settlers. The settlers were allowed a voice in government even 
before it was officially made a British colony in 1920, but Africans 
were prohibited from direct political participation until 1944.

From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of 
emergency arising from the "Mau Mau" rebellion against British 
colonial rule. During this period, African participation in the 
political process increased rapidly. The first direct elections for 
Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Kenya became 
independent on December 12, 1963, and the next year joined the 
Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the predominant Kikuyu tribe 
and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became Kenya's 
first president. The minority party, Kenya African Democratic Union 
(KADU), representing a coalition of small tribes that had feared 
dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself voluntarily in 1964 and 
joined KANU.

A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People's 
Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a 
former vice president and Luo elder. The KPU was banned and its 
leader detained after political unrest related to Kenyatta's visit to 
Nyanza province. No new opposition parties were formed after 1969, 
and KANU became the sole and ruling political party. At Kenyatta's 
death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi became interim 
president. On October 14, Moi became president in his own right after 
he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee.

In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making 
Kenya a de jure one-party state, and parliamentary elections were held 
in September 1983. The 1988 elections reinforced the one-party 
system. In December 1991, parliament repealed the one-party section 
of the constitution, allowing other parties to register. By early 1992, 
several new parties had been formed, and multiparty elections were 
held in December 1992. President Moi was reelected for another five-
year term. Opposition party members won about 45 percent of the 
parliamentary seats; President Moi's KANU party maintains a 
parliamentary majority.


The unicameral assembly consists of 188 members elected to a term of 
up to five years, plus 12 members appointed by the president. The 
president appoints the vice president and cabinet members from among 
those elected to the assembly. The attorney general and the speaker are 
ex officio members of the National Assembly.

The judiciary is headed by a High Court, consisting of a chief justice 
and at least 30 High Court judges and judges of Kenya's Court of 
Appeal (no associate judges), all appointed by the president.

Local administration is divided among 60 rural districts, each headed 
by a presidentially appointed commissioner. The districts are joined to 
form seven rural provinces. The Nairobi area has special status and is 
not included in any district or province. The government supervises 
administration of districts and provinces.

Principal Government Officials

President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--Daniel 
Toroitich arap Moi
Vice President--Prof. George Saitoti
Minister Foreign Affairs--Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka
Ambassador to the United States--Benjamin Kipkorir
Ambassador to the United Nations--Njuguna Moses Mahugu

Kenya maintains an embassy in the United States at 2249 R Street NW, 
Washington, DC 20008 (Tel. 202-387-6101).


Since independence, Kenya has maintained remarkable stability despite 
changes in its political system and crises in neighboring countries. 
Citizens have enjoyed an unprecedented degree of freedom with the re-
emergence of multiparty democracy. The government, however, 
continues to invoke sedition laws inherited from the colonial era to 
limit free speech and assembly. A number of opposition members of 
parliament have been arrested since the 1992 election for violating 
these laws. Future political debate is likely to focus on the relevance 
such laws and the Kenyan constitution as amended to the multiparty 


After independence, Kenya promoted rapid economic growth through 
public investment, encouragement of smallholder agricultural 
production, and incentives for private (often foreign) industrial 
investment. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual average 
of 6.6 percent from 1963 to 1973. Agricultural production grew by 4.7 
percent annually during the same period, stimulated by redistributing 
estates, diffusing new crop strains, and opening new areas to 

Between 1974 and 1990, Kenya's economic performance declined. 
Inappropriate agricultural policies, inadequate credit and poor 
international terms of trade contributed to the decline in agriculture. 
Kenya's inward looking policy of import substitution and rising oil 
prices made Kenya's manufacturing sector uncompetitive. Lack of 
export incentives, tight import controls and foreign exchange controls 
worsened the domestic environment for investment.

From 1991 to 1993, Kenya had its worst economic performance since 
1963. Growth in GDP stagnated while agricultural production 
contracted at an annual rate of 3.9 percent. Inflation reached a record 
100 percent in August 1993 while the government's budget deficit was 
over 10 percent of GDP. As a result of the problems, bilateral and 
multilateral donors suspended program aid to Kenya in 1991.

In 1993, the government of Kenya began a major program of economic 
reform and liberalization. A new minister of finance and a new 
governor of the central bank began to implement a series of economic 
measures with the assistance of the World Bank and the International 
Monetary Fund (IMF). As part of this program, the government 
eliminated price controls and import licensing, removed foreign 
exchange controls, privatized a range of publicly--owned companies, 
reduced the number of civil servants, and introduced conservative 
fiscal and monetary policies. In 1995, Kenya's real GDP growth rate 
was 4.9 percent compared to 3.0 percent in 1994 and 0.2 percent in 
1993. By the end of 1995, inflation was down to 2 percent, and the 
budget deficit was under 2 percent of GDP.

In March 1996, donors expressed satisfaction with Kenya's economic 
progress. At a meeting of the Donor Consultative Group on Kenya in 
Paris, bilateral and multilateral donors pledged U.S.$730 million in 
assistance to Kenya. As part of this pledge, the World Bank has made a 
U.S.$90 million structural adjustment credit available to Kenya and the 
International Monetary Fund has provided a U.S.$218 million 
enhanced structural adjustment facility. The World Bank is also 
providing loans for a range of specific projects, including the 
rehabilitation of the critical Mombasa-Nairobi road.

Although Kenya has made substantial economic progress, further 
reforms are necessary if it is to increase its GDP growth rate. 
Government plans for additional reforms include further privatization 
of public companies, downsizing of government, and reductions in 
tariffs. Kenya's infrastructure is in urgent need of rehabilitation, 
although the government has recently begun to take some steps to 
address the problem. Corruption remains a major problem.

Nairobi continues to be the primary hub of East Africa with the 
region's best transportation linkages, communications infrastructure, 
and trained personnel. A wide range of foreign firms maintain regional 
branch or representative offices in the city. In March 1996, the 
presidents of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda reestablished the East 
African Cooperation (EAC). The EAC's objectives include 
harmonizing tariffs and customs regimes, free movement of people, 
and improving regional infrastructures.


Despite internal tensions in Sudan and Ethiopia, Kenya has maintained 
good relations with its northern neighbors. Recent relations with 
Uganda and Tanzania have improved as the three countries work for 
mutual economic benefit. The lack of a cohesive government in 
Somalia prevents normal contact with that country, although Kenya 
serves as the major host for refugees from that conflict.

Kenya maintains a moderate profile in Third World politics. Kenya's 
relations with Western countries are generally friendly, although 
current political and economic instabilities are often blamed on 
Western pressures.


The United States and Kenya have enjoyed cordial relations since 
Kenya's independence. More than 6,000 U.S. citizens live in Kenya, 
and about 35,000 Americans visit Kenya annually. About two-thirds of 
the resident Americans are missionaries and their families. U.S. 
business investment is estimated to be more than U.S.$285 million, 
primarily in commerce, light manufacturing, and the tourism industry.

U.S. assistance to Kenya promotes broad-based economic development 
as the basis for continued progress in political, social, and related 
areas of national life. U.S. aid strategy is designed to achieve three 
major objectives: reduced population growth;  increased agricultural 
productivity;  and increased role of private enterprise in the economy. 
It focuses on small farmers and the rural landless, a group that 
comprises more than four- fifths of Kenya's poorest citizens and 
accounts for about one-quarter of the population. The U.S. Peace Corps 
has more than 165 volunteers in Kenya.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--Prudence Bushnell
Deputy Chief of Mission--Timberlake Foster
USAID Mission Director--George Jones
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Marilyn Hulbert

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is located at Haile Selassie and Moi 
Avenues, Nairobi, PO Box 30137 (Tel. 334141; Fax 340838).


Climate and clothing: Light- and medium-weight clothing is worn most 
of the year. Sweaters and light raincoats are needed during the rainy 

Customs: U.S. citizens entering Kenya need a passport and visa.

Health: No special precautions are required in Nairobi, and adequate 
hospital and outpatient treatment is available in the city. Outside the 
capital, avoid tapwater and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Anti-
malarial tablets and yellow fever, polio, typhoid, and hepatitis 
immunizations are recommended for travelers outside the capital.

Transportation: Many international airlines serve Nairobi. Most major 
towns are linked by Kenya Airways flights, good passenger train 
services, and intercity bus services. Places of special tourist interest 
served by local light-aircraft companies. Taxis are abundant in Nairobi.


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